The Singapore Job Market: 2020 Outlook
Now that it is a new year and indeed a new decade, I thought it would be timely to consider what the job market in Singapore looks likes for 2020. The Ministry of Manpower released its Q3 2019 jobs data in mid-December and although we are now in Q1 of 2020 it does provide a good indicator of what has been happening in the market and where we are going.
As you can see in the graph below, the total number of job vacancies reduced from 48,500 in Q2 to 45,000 in Q3, a reduction of 7.2%. More alarmingly though is that the number of vacancies fell for the fourth straight quarter. Overall there had been a 29% decrease in jobs since a high of 63,300 vacancies in Q3 2018.
When we compare this against Singapore’s GDP, the results are of little surprise. If we look at the graph below, adding GDP to the job vacancies statistics, we can see a fairly close correlation between the two data sets. Generally, GDP maps very well against Singapore job vacancies and particularly so in the last two years. What we see is that typically job vacancies follow the GDP trend but by a delay of one quarter. If you think about this it does makes sense - if GDP goes down, revenues will generally follow suit and companies will typically restrict hiring activities as a result. The positive news is that the latest GDP results show a slight upturn from 0.2% in Q2 (revised from 0.1%) to 0.5% in Q3. If the correlation is to continue I would expect an upturn in jobs numbers to be recorded in Q4.
I also believe that we have hit a natural floor in the jobs market. If we look at the total number of vacancies over a longer time period we can see that the number of jobs hasn’t fallen below the 44,000 mark in the last 10 years. The graph below shows the amount of job vacancies over the last 15 years, and it does suggest that certainly since 2010, job vacancies tend to bottom out around this mark.
Singapore v Hong Kong Job Vacancies
I always like to compare Singapore against our ‘noisy neighbours’ from across the South China Sea, and we can see in the graph below that what we have been experiencing in Singapore (in blue) has been replicated in Hong Kong (in black). The two cities generally have had a very close correlation when it comes to jobs data but moving forward I expect this to be less marked. The protests in Hong Kong have had a definite effect on their GDP and although their jobs data is not quite as recent, in Singapore we can see the same sharp decline over the last 12 months. I expect jobs numbers in Hong Kong to continue to fall in Q4 given that the city came to somewhat of a grinding halt during the worst of the protests in November. It will be very interesting to see what happens if job numbers continue to fall or, which is more my prediction, that the numbers will level. I believe that vacancies may go unfilled as recruitment processes have been taking longer either as a result of having to rearrange interviews or because of conservatism in the hiring decision making process.
So what does the economy look like for 2020? The Ministry of Trade & Finance is predicting GDP to increase next year between 0.5% and 2.5%. Now, although conservative, that is a fairly wide range, but certainly a lot larger than the prediction of between 0% and 1% which was mentioned throughout 2019. The analysis is that although the Global economy is weak there are signs of stabilisation. The trade war between the US and China has shown signs of a thaw and it is my personal view that the US will push through an agreement at a more timely moment in 2020, probably when Trump is looking to boost his popularity figures as we close in on the US Presidential Election. It is also expected that Singapore will see steady growth in IT, finance and construction, continuing a trend which we saw in 2019.
To analyse these predictions I looked at changes in employment levels across various industries as well as the overall economy in the table below to see if there had been any recent trends. Overall there was a small increase in employment levels between September 2018 and September 2019 at 1.6%. It was no surprise to see information & communications topping increases in employment numbers at 5.25% year on year growth, but it was very positive also to see growth in the financial services and professional services industries. However, manufacturing figures reduced.
Overall we are anticipating modest growth in jobs in Singapore in 2020. Our experience at Elliott Scott HR reflects what has been happening in the overall economy, our biggest sectors are in technology (predominantly in startups and in Cloud related companies), professional services and financial services. We have seen demand for roles predominately at the mid to senior level and typically this has been centered around HR Generalist / Business Partners with a fair demand in Learning and Talent roles. Compensation and HR Operation positions have not been quite so in fashion of late but we have seen a modest demand for HRIS roles. Notably, we have seen a high level of interest in Hong Kong based expat candidates for roles in Singapore but that has not been the case for Hong Kong citizens themselves. We have seen a few roles relocate to Singapore from Hong Kong although the primary reason for this has not been because of the protests. We do anticipate an uptake in regional roles in Singapore as multinationals look to settle regional roles in a less risky location, but it is not a zero sum game that what Hong Kong loses will be Singapore’s gain.
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